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Sometimes life affords you great little moments. You marvel at the thing you’re experiencing and oddly proclaim to yourself, “Wow.” CITI credit card sponsored a series of Grammy week events in Los Angeles at the legendary Hollywood Palladium entitled CITI Sound Vault. The event series features an impressive roster of bands including Beck and Metallica. Tonight’s event was the first of two shows headlined by Sting. Those that purchased tickets were in for an outstanding treat, as in addition to some of the best cuts from his stellar solo career, the mononymous person known as Sting played a whopping eight songs from the catalog of The Police.
Case and point, the set opened on the stellar cuts “Synchronicity II” and the ultra reggae-y “Spirits in the Material World.” Sting’s band included longtime guitarist Dominic Miller, Miller’s son Rufus, his own son Joe Sumner, openers the Last Bandoleros and, most impressively, session drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese. Stellar solo career songs “She’s Too Good For Me” and “Englishman in New York” followed before he transitioned into some of his new material. From his latest album 57th and 9th, he continued with “One Fine Day,” “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “Down, Down, Down.” Before “One Fine Day” he quipped to the crowd, “I would love to live in a world where climate change is a hoax. But it’s not.” Lamenting certain elements of society’s reticence to accept scientific consensus on climate change, he continued quoting legendary poet William Blake, “A man who persisted in his folly will one day become wise.” He added, “Let’s fucking hope so.”
Many songs—either by virtue of their original arrangement or in a slight re-purposing for the live band—were framed up with a reggae feel and sonic palette. Most obvious in featuring this change-up was ‘90s country hit “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying.” Sting explained how a re-recording of it with Toby Keith went all the way to the top of the U.S. country charts years ago, but then added he was glad Keith hadn’t played the song at President Donald Trump’s inauguration last month. A few more tracks from his latest album came next (“Pretty Young Soldier,” “Petrol Head”) and then it was pretty much solid gold from there all the way until the end of the set.
The lovely and soothing ballad “Shape of My Heart” featured the best of Sting’s effortless vocal command. Perhaps the strongest single cut of the evening followed that, the classic Police song “Message in a Bottle.” “Message in a Bottle” could well be pop perfection. Really just three immaculate pieces juxtaposed: the ascending verse, the repeated chorus refrain, “I’ll send out an S.O.S. to you,” and the descending bassline and call-out, “Message in a bottle.” Each part kind of begs for the other, and it’s hard not to get excited for each mounting piece of the puzzle. Before the encore break, three other amazing songs from The Police’s catalog are played as well: the calming “Walking on the Moon,” the rocking “So Lonely” and the unforgettable histrionics of “Roxanne,” the latter of which was combined with his cover of the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine” in the bridge before returning to the song’s explosive chorus.
It’s hard to follow a set of songs of that caliber. Sting saved one of his oldest songs for the beginning of the encore, the driving punk rock of “Next to You” from The Police’s debut album Outlandos d’Amour. And fittingly, it all came to a logical conclusion with the luminous mega hit “Every Breath You Take.” Wisely using his son and backup singers to bring to conclusion the outro’s counterpoint, the song is an ominous yet oddly uplifting number. Coupled with everything that came before it, it paints Sting’s status as rightly being as impressive as he is always claimed to be. His reputation is well deserved. It’s hard to compete with the level of craftsmanship and showmanship that was on display here. Few could. And what’s more, few could make it look as easy as Sting.
Spirits in the Material World
She’s Too Good for Me
Englishman in New York
One Fine Day
I Can’t Stop Thinking About You
Down, Down, Down
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Pretty Young Soldier
Shape of My Heart
Message in a Bottle
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie cover, Joe Sumner on vocals)
Walking on the Moon
Roxanne / Ain’t No Sunshine
Next to You
Every Breath you Take